Saturday, September 29, 2007

BlackWater and the Future

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross. ~ Sinclair Lewis

The third of the ten steps is to ‘Develop a Paramilitary Force.’ Without a paramilitary force that is not answerable to the people’s representatives, democracy cannot be closed down; however, with such a force available to would-be despots, democracy can be drastically and quickly weakened. ~ Naomi Watts
I shall close my week wading in disgusting BlackWater by peeking into a possible future. What could happen after the Iraq War is over and we have a politically partisan, politically connected, ruthless, well financed and trained paramilitary force in bases across the United States?

In this article on Firedoglake, Naomi Wolfe points to the frightening fact that BlackWater USA is not some Iraqi invention but is an American enterprise. It has used its extensive political connections to suck hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal tit. It is crafting for itself a position where it is unanswerable to any legal justice, whether in Iraq or the United States.
How protected is Blackwater from prosecution for its crimes? The company’s lawyers have argued that Blackwater can’t be held accountable by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, because they aren’t part of the US military; but they can’t be sued in civil court, either — because they are part of the US military. ~ Wolfe
And they have had practice within the United States. After Hurricane Katrina, heavily armed BlackWater mercs were roaming the streets of New Orleans claiming the right to make arrests and use lethal force at their discretion. All this has positioned BlackWater as the likely paramilitary precursor to dictatorship.

This is a chilling photo of BlackWater troops patrolling in New Orleans. The black shirts they are wearing are a striking reference to Mussolini's Blackshirts, his camicie nere. Like Mussolini's thugs, BlackWater soldiers are mostly ex-military. The motto of the Blackshirts was "Me ne frego." (I don't give a damn.) Judging from their work in Iraq it is a fitting motto for BlackWater as well.

What a US Dictatorship Will Look Like
For those wingnuts who squawk "Bush Derangement Syndrome" whenever anyone cautions against dictatorship, let me assure you it won't be George Bush. Bush lacks the balls and it is too soon. While the ground is being plowed it will take a few years to reap the harvest. Bush is more like a Bizarro John the Baptist preparing the way for some future anti-Christ. Mitt Romney is a possibility. He has the closest ties to BlackWater of any current candidate with one of its executives on his advisory team. Perhaps Erik Prince, the founder and owner of BlackWater, sees himself as the new messiah. Or, more probably, there is someone lurking in the shadows waiting to be anointed Primo Caporale Onorario.

The Jews of the coming Holocaust will almost certainly be Hispanics. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) has declared Hispanic immigrants an "invasion" and that Mexico is waging an "undeclared war" against the United States. Samuel Huntington in his 2004 book "Who Are We?" wrote that Mexican immigrants are a threat to the United States Anglo-Protestant values. Homosexuals, Muslims, and liberals will be targeted as always, but the focus will be on Mexicans. There are rumors, hopefully wacko, of FEMA preparing concentration camps around the country to hold people during times of martial law.

These are not things that must happen, only what might happen. BlackWater USA in both their existence and their culture make it more possible. So does fear of terrorism - dictatorships feed on fear, and the desire of fundamentalist Christians to force their faith upon the whole of the nation.

Pop Quiz ~ Which of these is not a philosophy of right-wing conservatives? (nationalism, authoritarianism, statism, militarism, anti-communism, corporatism, populism, and opposition to economic and political liberalism)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Answering an Iraq Professional

I acknowledge that there are some good, decent people working for military contractors in Iraq. Just as I am certain there are good, decent Iraqis driven into the insurgency by the deaths of wives or children killed by trigger-happy mercs working for those same military contractors. The problem is with a system that outsources military jobs to private companies.

The Problem with Outsourcing War
Military contractors are hired because there are insufficient active duty military personnel. Rather than induct American citizens to fight the Iraq War - an act that would have quickly turn the public against the war (You can have your little war, just don't bother me with it.) - the Bush Administration threw money at the problem. The result is a multifaceted disaster.

Two stories about Kellogg Brown & Root will illustrate my point. On June 9, 2005 a column of non-KBR trucks was ambushed west of Baghdad. The survivors made it to Al Taqaddum Air Base where KBR has the services contract. Although individual KBR employees wanted to help they were ordered by KBR management to offer no assistance. In fact, KBR had deliberately neglected to inform the other company of the dangers of that road before the ambush. In 2004, Halliburton (then parent to KBR) was accused of dragging it heels on constructing military bases in Iraq and for threatened to withhold food service for U.S. soldiers inside Iraq. Imagine if you will the consequences if an army quartermaster had made such a threat? In 2006, KBR received over $6 billion in U.S. government contracts.

Competing firms treated as the enemy, business interests placed above soldiers welfare, this is the problem with privatizing the war. BlackWater cowboys are only a symptom of this systemic problem.

There is little difference between "Rules of Engagement" and "Rules on the Use of Force." Both are jargon terms for "when you are allowed to shoot someone's ass off." This article has a Marine JAG explaining the subtle differences between ROE and RUF. Coalition Provisional Authority memo 17 has the orders which removed contractors from Iraqi justice. Annex A of that memo has the RUF for contractors. They are all nice and pretty but meaningless without a means of enforcement. Soldiers who violate the ROE face court martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and hard time in Leavenworth. When a contractor violates the RUF he faces, well, nothing. If the company is politically powerful like KBR and BlackWater they will continue to get nice, fat, profitable contracts. The dead bodies, they don't care guns but KBR's negligence can kill too, are just the price of doing business.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BlackWater - Mind Blowing Data Points

Since 2000, BlackWater USA has received over $1 billion ($1,059,633,363) from the United States government. In FY 2006 alone they received over half a billion dollars ($593,075,845). Of the FY 2006 total, less than $3 million (0.5%) was through completely open competition.

If you haven't upchucked yet, Kellogg Brown and Root (formerly part of Halliburton) got over 10 times more than BlackWater in '06.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BlackWater and Iraq's Mercenary Adventurers

Agua Negra - Black Water - in Spanish is the term for foul, contaminated water and sewage. In much the same way the mercenary force BlackWater USA has fouled the American colonial occupation of Iraq.

Armed to the teeth, including armored vehicles and attack helicopters, they have been placed above any laws by the United States government. The laws of Iraq and the United States do not apply to them. They are even beyond the reach of the international laws of war. They know this and have become very comfortable with the brutality that comes with impunity. (Legal note: The following are personal opinions based upon the research and reporting of others. If you don't like them, sue those other folk, not me.)

Many Opportunities for Plunder
BlackWater USA is one of many military contractors (AKA - Mercenaries) fielding private armies for profit inside Iraq. No one knows the precise number of mercs (contractors) in Iraq; estimates exceed 200,000 making the private forces larger than the official American military commitment. While many of these people do menial tasks, more on them later, there is a significant number of armed fighters whose loyalty is bought by the highest bidder. Jeremy Scahill reports that up to 40% of all the money being poured into the Iraq War is going to these private contractors.

Selected Examples
There are dozens of private military contractor companies operating inside Iraq. BlackWater does not have the largest private army in Iraq, that honor goes to the British firm Aegis Defence Services. Aegis was formed just before the start of the Iraq War. It's founder is Tim Spicer who was involved with mercenaries who broke a weapons embargo to ship arms into the "blood diamonds" civil war in Sierra Leone. His mercenaries were hired by the government of Papua New Guinea in 1997 to suppress a rebellion. A coup overthrew the government and drove out the mercs. A film of mercs in Iraq shooting up cars set to music is attributed to Aegis personnel. See also Iraq's Mercenary Prince.

BlackWater USA is the most famous of the Iraq mercenary armies. They have their own celebrity endorsement line of weapons, clothing, and accessories. They even have an air force. BlackWater is run by Republican insider Erik Prince. They have brought veterans of rightwing South American death squads into Iraq who have been accused of bringing with them their knowledge of torture techniques.

Triple Canopy has the contract for defense of the Green Zone. They reportedly fired employees who reported their supervisor had engaged in "sport shooting" of Iraqi civilians. Didn't fire the shooter.

Immunity from Responsibility
One of the last acts of L. Paul Bremer as viceroy of the Coalition Provisional Authority was to write a law making private contractors immune from Iraqi law. A court ruling makes them immune from US fraud laws. In January, Congress passed a law putting these contractors under the Uniform Code of Military Justice but the Pentagon, so far, has refused to enforce that law.

Their Tasks
Private contractors provide security for State Department staff (a job formerly done by Marines). They do convoy security (formerly an Army task). They train Iraqis police officers (although the film in the previous post suggests these Iraqis are being trained to hate Americans). They provide intelligence, meaning they do interrogations (jobs rightly reserved in the past for military intelligence). Private contractors also provide laundry and kitchen services (formerly known as KP duty when soldiers cleaned their own dishes).

Rules of Engagement
BlackWater claims to have "rules of engagement" for their personnel. This generally friendly article describes their rules for road travel such as the situation which caused the recent killings on an Iraqi street.
1) Shout and use hand gestures. (They were taught to say "cough" though "halt" in Arabic is "kif." - source)
2) Fire three warning shots into the car's grill. (If the driver takes shooting at his car as a signal to get the hell out of there...)
3) Shoot to kill.

If a car ahead of a BlackWater vehicle is stopped, say to allow an old woman to cross the street, the rules say to ram the car and push it out of the way.

A Sampling of Incidents (all alleged)
There a so many incidents and certainly many more that have not become public. But, nothing you would not expect from outlaws whose only interest in the war is profit.
1) The now famous attack.
2) Fraud and murder. See also.
3) Shooting at Marines.
4) Bribery and theft.
5) Killing an Iraqi officials security guard while in the Green Zone.
6) Killing guards for the Iraq State television service.
7) Prison break.
8) Bribery and fraud.
9) Smuggling.
10) Smuggling weapons.
11) Torture.
12) Recreational shooting of civilians.

Nell at A Lovely Promise lists several BlackWater crimes.

Not all contractors in Iraq are mercenaries. Some are slaves. Slaves may be a little strong. Indentured servants is a more accurate phrase. Such projects as building the massive American embassy or doing the cooking and cleaning for American troops falls to unskilled labor. You don't hire an ex-Green Beret at $100,000 a year to sling hash. A lot of this unskilled labor is done by people imported from other nations like Nepal and the Philippines. The funny things is, people are reluctant to get shot at for a few bucks a day. Rather than pay combat wages to laundresses, contractors lure people with promises of high wages, confiscate their travel documents upon arriving in Iraq, and force them to work cheaply. Some non-fighters are getting paid well. Here is a story of contractors importing an American prostitute for Green Zone entertainment. See also this report.

On the Home Front
The Iraq War has turned BlackWater USA from a small security firm into a major business. The are expanding, building bases in Illinois and California. They got a notorious no-bid contract to work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They brought the same sensitivity to that job as the have to the Iraq War. Some have noticed the danger of having a well armed, private, Republican army building bases in the United States. What have they trained? What if they turn on us? They are reaching strongly into politics. Mitt Romney has a BlackWater executive as a key adviser on his presidential campaign. Eight years ago, oil companies were the most politically powerful business in the country. Today, it is the mercenary businesses.

It Is All About the Money
In the end, for mercenaries, it is all about the money. And, the money has been great for them. Aegis had record profits last year and will probably do even better this year. Billions and billions of dollars have been funneled to them because of this war. From their point of view, the Iraq War must never end and it is certain they are working to keep the war going. And the next war, the one with Iran, will prove to be even more profitable.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

BlackWater on Film

I am separating these clips rather than embed them in what will be a God-awful (for me) long text on the subject. (Legal note: I have not confirmed the absolute accuracy of any of these so add the word "alleged" to all of the following sentences)

Pot Shooting for Kicks
Probably the most famous merc clip from Iraq, it shows British mercs from Aegis who had so much fun shooting up innocents on an Iraq road they put it to music.

The Street of the Dead
CNN's report on the most recent BlackWater attack on civilians. It is said that the Iraq government has a video of the attack that proves there was no ambush and that this was an unprovoked attack; it has not yet gone viral.

BlackWater Sniper
The story of this video is BlackWater mercs working for the Coalition Provisional Authority had come under attack in Najaf. Some sources claim this sniper is a Marine but, given the civilian clothing, I suspect he is a mercenary.

It's All About the Money
Iraq For Sale, a film by Robert Greenwald, take a clear look at Iraq War profiteering. This short clip explains succinctly how great the Iraq War has been for the business of BlackWater.

Treating Them Like Dogs Would Be an Improvement
This clip shows an American military contractor, possibly BlackWater, training an Iraqi police recruit.

The Documentaries
Iraq For Sale from Robert Greenwald is the best.
Shadow Company takes a more artistic look at the profitable business of war for hire.
Private Armies from Britain's Journeyman Pictures looks at mercenaries working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Voyeurism Across the Political Divide

While researching Blackwater USA (still working on it) I detoured to the meaningless story that the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has asked permission to lay a wreath at the site of the Twin Towers while in New York for his speech to the United Nations. This is an event I care about not one whit, one way or the other. However, the rightwing wackos are going way past ballistic over the very idea. I am having a hoot reading their hysterics.

According to the wingers:
  • Ahmadinejad personally ordered the 9/11 attacks. First Bin Laden, then Saddam, now Mahmoud. It seems 9/11 had a thousand fathers.
  • He should be expelled, arrested, tortured, shipped to Gitmo, assassinated, or buried alive on the site.
  • Bush is a wuss for not ordering all of this done and they will never again vote for another Republican.
  • Hillary Clinton is a traitor for not ordering Bush to do all of the above.
  • Rudy Guiliani (or Fred Thompson, depending on the level of brain damage) wouldn't just do all that to Mahmoud, he would expel, arrest, torture, and assassinate Hillary, too.
  • Iran should be nuked while he is in New York.
Okay, that last one is not fair. These are people who believe a butterfly flitting past their window is justification for nuking Iran. They are impotent buffoons and I do so love laughing at them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Now For Something Completely Different

The Lost Dutchman Mine
Somewhere in the shadow of Weaver's Needle (photo source) in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona is hidden the one of the most famous gold mines in the Western United States. Complete with curse. It is a story that has fascinated me since I was a child.

The gold had been known since at least the 18th century when it was mentioned as part of a huge Spanish land grant. The mine had been first lost in 1848 when the first party from Mexico to work on site in earnest were massacred. Left behind were vague hints to the mine's location and, even more tantalizing, burros that ran off during the massacre and died in the mountains still heavily laden with gold.
It 1864, 400 Mexican miners returned to search for the gold. Apaches attacked and kill all but one man at a place in the Superstition Mountains called the Massacre Grounds (right).

In the 1870's Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant, rediscovered the mine with the help of the sole survivor of the previous massacre. Waltz's partners were killed, either by Apache raiders or by Waltz himself, and the "Dutchman" had the gold all to himself. Waltz didn't work the mine constantly, the Apaches made that too dangerous. Periodically he would trek into the mountains and he always returned with gold. The Dutchman died in 1891 at the age of 83 taking the secret of his mine's location with him. But, he left clues.

Now began the treasure hunt for the Dutchman's gold which continues today. Waltz left behind clues which have been embellished in following years to the point of being worthless. There are scores of maps, almost all fake. The most interesting are these stone tablets (above) said to date back to the original Mexican owners of the mine. Nobody has been able to make sense of any of the maps, although this fellow claims to have solved the puzzle.

The Curse
Of course, when I was a kid I was hooked on the curse. The Superstition Mountains were sacred to the Apache, it was home to their Thunder God. Apparently the earliest Spanish Conquistadors who were searching for Cities of Gold named the range the Superstitions because of the stories and odd events they experienced there. The curse is that any white man who trespasses on the mountains and steals from the Thunder God will suffer a horrible death. In addition to mysterious deaths, the Superstitions are said to be visited by UFOs, ghostly apparitions, and wormholes called Sipapoos.

More than you ever wanted to know: Jacob Waltz bio, a complete telling of the story, the supernatural Superstitions

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Couple 'o Short Takes

I'm so bored with Iraq. I really want to write about something fun with pictures than don't include blood like the Lost Dutchman's Mine (maybe tomorrow).

Blackwater Bye-Bye?
Blackwater USA is one of the largest and most notorious mercenary groups operating inside Iraq. The Iraqi government has canceled their license to operate in Iraq because of their latest fling of recreational civilian killing. Were I a gambling man I would take bets on how they will get out of this. Will they bribe Iraqi officials to reverse their decision? Will their soldiers capture Iraq's Prime Minister and hold him hostage until the decision is reversed? Will they simply ignore the order and continue to operate their private army? As long as there is war in Iraq, Blackwater will be there. If ever there is a risk of peace breaking out, Blackwater will dedicate it's resources to stomping the dove to mush. Profits Uber Alles.

Bush's New French Poodle?
Has Bush replaced Tony Blair with a new pet in French President Sarkozy? Sarkozy and his aides never miss a chance to promote the latest Bush/Cheney wet dream - war with Iran. When the Iran War comes France appears certain to be cheek to jowl (butt hole to prick?) with the United States in the attack.

Friday, September 14, 2007

George & Dave's Used War Shoppe

Bush and Petraeus remind me of those unscrupulous merchants who hike the prices of their shoddy products by 25% so that later they can hold a 20% Off Sale and say they are "slashing prices." Only suckers buy it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Let's Privatize the Hell Out of the Iraq War

I continue to dream of a Congress that explores creative ways to extract the United States from Iraq. I must dream because the reality is a continuing colonial occupation. My latest fantasy is to fully privatize the war.

Step One: Congress votes funding for the removal of all American military personnel from Iraq to be completed no later than November 30, 2008.

Step Two: Congress gives Bush a Letter of Marque authorizing him to seek private funding to continue his Iraq Adventure using mercenaries.

The United States Treasury is already funding over 160,000 mercenaries in Iraq; finding merc soldiers to replace American servicemembers will not be a problem. This way Iraq can remain Bush's War and Bush's Responsibility even after he leaves office. Wealthy Republicans who love the war so much will certainly be willing to donate the billions of dollars necessary to continue the war as a private venture. The sight of Ann Coulter hosting bake sales to hire a battalion of privateers for Anbar will inspire the nation. Thousands of Republicans have only been able to support the war with bellicose words because they are cowards and because they are too rich to have to pay taxes. Finally, they will be able to show the world in a tangible way just how much they support this war. It is called "putting your money where your mouth is."

There are a few cynics out there who will point out that if Republicans have to back their wars with their personal fortunes they will all be running for seats at the pacifist table. To them I say, let's make room.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Only Book You Need

To Understand Gen. Petraeus' Testimony
I read the book How To Lie With Statistics when I was young and the lessons I found there have served me for decades. Never trust any chart that is counterintuitive; never believe any numbers that are pitched to sell something unless I can see the raw data; when someone's testimony is chock-a-block full of statistics figure he is lying through his teeth unless proven otherwise.
Twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. ~ Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant
When I saw Gen. Petraeus' slide presentation to Congress I flashed back to that old Vietnam War era song/story and I laughed. Flashbacks are a risk for Vietnam War era people. Laughter is the only thing you can do to keep your sanity when watching four-star generals selling their beloved wars to the very last corpse.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Iraq War - Six Months or Ten Years?

Typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years." ~ Gen. David Petraeus, June 2007
I seriously doubt the Gen. Petraeus will allow the words "decade" or "ten" to pass his lips in the next few days, but three months ago he made one of the few honest predictions for the future of the Iraq War when he said it would last for at least another decade.

In early testimony Gen. Petraeus is asking for another six months. It should be remembered that six months ago he asked for six months, hence these September hearings. Since the start of the Iraq War "six months" has been the unit of currency for selling the next phase of the war. When Gen. Petraeus says "six months" he is making a political sales pitch and not a military analysis. Six months ago, six months from now, nothing significant changes in these time periods. No possible combination of events can occur in the next six months that will calm the ongoing civil war/insurgency.

Ten to twenty years is the minimum necessary to quell an insurgency in a freshly conquered colony. In that time, a new generation of leaders will have grown up with little or no recollection of a time without foreign occupation. These young men can be co-opted or taught to accept the reality of the foreign Raj. By then the older generation who fought for country, sect, or tribe will have either died or aged so they can no longer lead the fighting.

Gen. Petraeus got his history wrong when he said the counter-insurgency effort in Ireland took ten years. The Irish insurgency against British rule started in 1534. A better argument for him would be the American colonization of the Philippines. The United States took the country from the Spanish in 1898. The Filipino nationalistic insurgency that followed was not fully suppressed until 1913. That suppression required a brutal war against the Filipino people that included butchery on both side and the creation of concentration camps by the United States Army to imprison Filipino citizens. It took a full generation after the initial conquest for the Filipino people to learn to love being ruled by the United States.

That is the best case scenario. A full decade from now to end the war and an additional thirty years of occupation for the Iraqi people to learn to love us. Worst case scenario is several centuries of war. This is what the future of the Iraq War will be and no amount of politicking from Gen. Petraeus can change that.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Clothing to Get You Kick off an Airplane

Being Pretty
Kyla Ebbert was flying Southwest Airlines from San Diego to Tuscon in July. She is pictured at right wearing the same dress as she had on that day. A flight attendant (male) ordered her off the plane for showing "too much skin" for a family airline. Kyla negotiated a compromise, she adjusted her attire and was allowed to remain on the plane. On the return flight another flight attendant (female) complimented her on her clothing.

Expressing an Opinion
Delta Airlines threatened to throw Ralph Lopez off a flight to Atlanta this month for wearing a message similar to the one at the left. Ralph refused to remove the message and the offended flight attendant backed down. No word how Delta feels about people wearing this.
Squiggles and Dots
Raed Jarrar was flying JetBlue from New York to California wearing this shirt. He was pulled out of the boarding area by two men carrying badges. After a few minutes of intimidation he was ordered to remove or cover up the shirt. He covered the message with a shirt proudly proclaiming "New York" and was allowed to board the plane. However, in a homage to Jim Crow, he was moved from his seat in 3a to the back of the plane.

Look Who's Using 'Just for Men'

Osama Bin Laden in 2001.Osama Bin Laden in the video released yesterday. No more gray. Looks like old Osama is making the dating scene again at those hot Pashtun discos. Apparently the cave he is supposed to be hiding out in has a Rite-Aide outlet and he's become a regular user of Just For Men for beards and mustaches.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Bipolar Republican Terror Reflex

It is an interesting dichotomy.

Republicans are terrified shitless of anything that might remotely hint at Arab extremism. A couple of brown-skinned men speak Arabic, or what a white woman sitting near the toilet thinks is Arabic, and an entire airplane of otherwise rational humans spins into panic. It doesn't matter that the men in question are Americans hired by the United States Army to help train soldiers for the Iraq War. Show Republicans a photo of a man wearing a kufi and no provision of the Constitution is safe. Show them a flowing white thawb and they have an uncontrollable urge to wage war on a sizable part of the world. They can't wait for proof; they don't even care if the nations they attack are even involved in the crimes they are avenging. They willingly surrender their every freedom in a paroxysm of fright. They are scared, terrified, and every action they take screams unreasoning panic.

Show these same people proof that the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. Point out that other signs like rapid desertification, more powerful tropical storms, killer brushfires and heat waves around the world all strongly support the theory the world is heating up and climates are changing in ways that, on balance, will injure mankind. Note that fossil fuel burning and widespread deforestation point to humans as at least contributing causes. Suggest that the world ought to work together to arrest the causes and mitigate the effects of this climate change and these very same Republicans are the picture of fecklessness. Now, proof is insufficient. They refuse to even consider action until the causes and effects are calculated to the fortieth decimal point. Should one elderly man in a remote village in Latvia be found to benefit from a warming Earth (For example, the rising oceans that will flood Florida will give him beach-front property) then that is reason enough for them to do nothing forever.

I have said many times that I just don't understand Republicans. They seem to have a bipolar terror reflex. The very existence of dark-skinned men terrify them into a panic that would embarrass a three year-old. Conversely, if you put their La-Z-Boy recliner into an oven and slowly turn up the heat they will continue passively munching on Cheetos without a care. They have a gut wrenching dread of dying at the hands of a Middle Eastern tourist when the effects of climate change are far more likely to snuff them. I'd like to just dismiss Republicans as irrational lunatics but, damn it, frequently these wackos gain control of my country.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Living On a Warming Planet

All of man's little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries - they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival. The time is five minutes to twelve, midnight. There is no more darkness. The place is New York City and this is the eve of the end, because even at midnight it's high noon, the hottest day in history, and you're about to spend it in the Twilight Zone. ~ Rod Serling, Twilight Zone episode "Midnight Sun"
In 1961, Rod Serling wrote an episode for the third season of his television sci-fi series the Twilight Zone titled "Midnight Sun." He postulated an Earth that was getting closer to the sun. The temperature was rising over 140 degrees F. Most of the people in New York had gone north or died from the heat. The few who remained were struggling to survive as even the middle of the night was unbearably hot.
At left is the extent of the arctic ice cap as of a couple of weeks ago. The pink line shows the average coverage of the ice for August for the last two decades of the twentieth century. In just a five day period, from August 17 to August 22, the arctic ice cap shrank by 131,000 square miles, about the size of New Mexico. The current estimate is that summer arctic ice will disappear completely by the year 2030.

For comparison, at right is the arctic ice cap in September, 2006. Just one year ago. This is not esoteric babble. The lose of the ice cap is both a symptom and a cause of global warming. The white of the ice reflects the summer sun, moderating global temperature swings. The blue of the open ocean absorbs heat. The ice cap is melting because the Earth is warming and because the ice is melting the Earth will get even warmer still.

The Southern California heat wave has broken, daytime temperatures are back to normal. A couple of dozen people died from the heat.

The Twilight Zone Twist
In Serling's story, the Earth was not getting closer to the sun. The unbearable heat was simply the nightmares of a feverously sick woman. In fact, the Earth was getting farther from the sun and the planet was freezing to death.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gaming the Electorial System

Gaming the System ~ using the rules, policies and procedures of a system against itself for purposes outside what these rules were intended for. ~ Wikitruth
Any system that can be gamed is inherently flawed. Gaming the tax code means the poor pay more than the rich. Gaming education makes for rigged tests because good results are more important than teaching students. Current efforts to game the Electoral College in California points to the flaws in our system of electing presidents.

Republicans are circulating an initiative in California to change the winner-take-all system to allocating electoral votes by congressional district. The intended effect is to shift some 20 electoral votes in this solidly Democratic state to the Republican presidential candidate. Democrats in Texas are trying to do the same thing for the opposite reason. These are transparent efforts to rig election laws to favor one party over another.

Proponents say this change will force candidates to visit and spend money in the state. That misses the whole point of holding elections. The reason for elections is not to make my state a tourist attraction for presidential candidates. We hold elections to find out who the majority of Americans want to lead the country.

The Electoral College is an anachronism from a time when the founding fathers didn't full trust the democracy they had created and wanted a group of learned men as a buffer between the electing rabble and the final decision of who is president. It is a deeply flawed system. It is easily gamed by candidates who run regionally focused campaigns. It is completely possible for one man to get only 40% of the popular vote yet win an Electoral College majority (it happened in 1860). It is possible for Electors to overrule the voters and choose someone else over the person elected by the voters - indeed that was what the founding fathers intended.

The Electoral College ought to be scrapped for a natural majority vote. That won't happen. The flaws are precisely why the College is loved by candidates and especially consultants. It can be rigged and manipulated. It divides the nation into identifiable chunks, some of which can be courted while others are ignored. This flawed system resulted in George Bush's election in 2000. We shall have further reasons to regret this system in the future.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Seven Reasons Why We Shall Start a War with Iran

I have predicted America bombing Iran for over a year now and I have been consistently wrong. I love being wrong about this and I hope for my continuing error.
  1. There are people within the Bush Administration (Dick Cheney) that believe 2007 is the last chance to attack Iran.
  2. Of all branches of the US military, the Air Force is the least affected by the Iraq War. Air Force generals feel they are missing out on the fun and promotions a war offers. The Air Force is also the branch most dominated by apocalyptic Christians.
  3. Bombing Iran is the Neo-con thing to do. I mean, on an orgasmic level, on a forget-about-elections in 2008 Straussian level.
  4. Bombing Iran is the "Christian thing to do." And if we use nuclear bombs it means Armageddon, the rapture, the return of Jesus.
  5. It would be abysmally stupid. (I know that should be an argument against but whenever given a choice, George Bush seems to reflexively choose the most stupid available decision.)
  6. That "legacy" thing. Bush believes it is his legacy is to bring democracy to the Middle East at the point of a sword.
  7. Profit.
A Note on the Weather: Today in Southern California promises to make yesterday (106 degree F.) feel like a cool winter's evening. Hot Times.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Heat Alert Timeout

We have had a week (más o menos) of high heat alerts in Southern California. Temperatures playing tag with 100 degrees F. with sweltering humidity. The world can go to hell for the day (it feels like we are half way there). I'm turning off the computer and am going to sit in front of the TV and watch the San Diego Padres sweep the LA Dodgers. Maybe I'll have some ice cream, too.

Art is "Hot City" by Bernice Neuman.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Military Pharmacology

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all ~ White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane
Where has the drug culture of the '60's gone to? In the words of the old folk song, "Gone to soldiers, every one." From the ubiquitous "go pill" that allows soldiers to fight on without sleep to new medicines designed to strip away a soldier's guilt and allow him to wage war without conscious, there is a drug culture growing inside the Pentagon that believes with the proper mix of chemicals they can make perfect fighting machines.

Sleep is the enemy
Generals hate the fact that pilots and soldiers have to sleep from time to time. If there is one thing generals dream about it is a warrior who never sleeps and never rests. The little orange "go pill" (dextroamphetamine) is the stuff of legend. Air Force and Navy pilots are required to be speed freaks, those who refuse to take the pills are grounded. Hopped up flyers have fewer fatigue accidents, can stay in the cockpit longer, and have a ready made excuse when drug addled brains cause them to bomb friendly targets. After the "go pill" comes the "no go pill" (temazepam). Between the two, on-duty flyers are almost always under the influence of narcotics.

The next stimulant for the battlefield is modafinil, know to street addicts as "zombies." Meant for the treatment of narcolepsy, when taken by normal people it lights them up so hot they will stay awake and alert for 40 straight hours. This pill squeezes three times more fight out of each soldier. It is a chemical surge.

Stripping Away Humanity
Fear, conscious, grief, regret, morality, these factors of humanity have no place on the battlefield. Post-traumatic stress, a difficulty dealing with the horrors of war, plagues returning soldiers. Pentagon chemists are seeking ways to treat PTS by finding a drug to suppress a soldier's moral codes. No morality, no stress at remembering the butchering of innocents. Here is a rightwing website that loves the idea.

The New Mustard Gas
Chemical weapons like Mustard Gas and Phosgene have been banned. The new chemical weapon tactic is using drugs (The Use of Drugs as Weapons, British Medical Assn. -pdf). One might argue that a drug is a chemical, hence a drug weapon is also a chemical weapon and illegal. But, military lawyers have made their careers obscuring such facts. The military is developing drugs that inflict severe pain without doing physical damage with the prospect of inflicting mass torture on a population. Others will inflict paralysis or panic. There is even experimentation on a drug that will induce cancer that has been described as slow-motion genocide. It is a Brave New World.

Other sources: The Body as Battlefield; BBC report on is modafinil; New York Times on Bombs and pills; Wired, the need for speed; Reason online, Crank Hypocrisy